Professional Practice

A Message for “Back to School 2020” From Derek Balsley, Founder and CEO of AOEU

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Dear Art Educators Everywhere,

This time of year is usually filled with anticipation and excitement for the school year ahead. In any other year, you’d be preparing for your new students, planning your classroom setup, setting new goals, and looking forward to the first day of school. This year, though, is very different.

You really don’t know what school will look like or feel like. Maybe your district has communicated reopening plans, or maybe they have sent out a survey seeing what you feel comfortable with. Maybe there has been uneasy silence…

How will your school go back? Traditional in-person, 100% online, hybrid approach?

For those schools that have announced official plans for in-person instruction, there are good reasons to believe the virus won’t allow them to maintain those plans for the entire school year.

None of this is ideal. None of this is easy.

Regardless, over the next few months, you and other art teachers from around the world will be asked to do hard things. While weighing your own family’s health, you may be asked to teach with new safety precautions, teach a visual medium in an online environment, connect with students during this emotional and confusing time, learn new software, or write a new curriculum.

During this challenging period, it is important to exhibit grace and understanding for the difficulties we and others face. And yet, through the difficulty, there is also opportunity.

Times of crisis are opportunities for leaders to emerge.

Opportunity exists for those previously ignored to show their true value. For those normally relegated to the sidelines to join the game, take the ball, and run.

As a K-12 art teacher, you have a bigger opportunity than most to be a new positive agent of change in this never-ending swirl of uncertainty. You can do the things no one else can, and impact students in a way others only wish they could.

In this moment of global crisis, the world needs art more than ever. It needs creativity more than ever. It needs ways to get students engaged more than ever. It needs opportunities for self-expression and non-verbal communication more than ever.

If you are tired of the status quo message that “art is fluff,” or, if you’ve had to advocate for your program’s legitimacy, this is your moment. Art educators everywhere have this moment to rise to the occasion, lead students, serve parents, prove to administrators art can have a lasting impact.

Leaders are born in moments of crisis. Education and art education are in a critical moment. As we all stand at the threshold of “Back to School Fall 2020,” how you go back truly matters.

This is hard, but it’s not too hard. This isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. You’re scared, but overcoming fear in order to serve others, gives you purpose.

That being said, nobody can do this alone. As such, I have directed the entire team at AOEU to put all of our efforts toward supporting you during this critical juncture. In the coming weeks and months, AOEU will be working hard to develop and publish professional development, curriculum, and academic courses that support you in your endeavor.

You may have been asked to do the impossible, but you won’t be doing it alone.

Here are a few specific resources AOEU is providing now to grow and support you as you head into the school year:

  1. Up to $20,000 for any school-district adopting online tools for professional development or curriculum: Schools are scrambling to find resources that help their teachers succeed at online instruction. We’re doing our part to make these online curriculum/PD solutions affordable for every school.
  2. Free Articles, Podcasts, and Instagram Live Chats: Every week, we are publishing content that applies to this moment in education and unique perspectives from art teachers with “boots on the ground.” You are not alone—nearly every day of the week, we will show up for you so you can show up for your students.
  3. Graduate Course – Teaching K-12 Art Online: Most art teachers are not trained to teach online. This course was specifically designed to apply directly to YOUR teaching. This course will not only provide you with practical strategies you never thought of but also offer a community of art teacher leaders to work with.
  4. New FLEX Collections and PRO Learning Packs: With changing curriculums, learning from home, and a focus on minimal materials we have created content to specifically address the needs of now.

This is not an exhaustive list. I want you to know that AOEU is working hard at this very moment to do whatever we can to support art teachers during this challenging time.

Each week we are adding more content and solutions at to help us fulfill our mission “We grow amazing art teachers with rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning at every stage of their career.”

With love and humility,

Derek Balsley
Founder & CEO
The Art of Education University

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Derek Balsley

Derek Balsley is AOEU’s Founder. He is an entrepreneur and branding/CX expert who advocates for supporting lifelong learners.

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